Not all perfumes are made with sugar, spice, and everything nice. The sweetest smelling fragrances are sometimes crafted from the vilest of materials. Take, for example, ambergris, a precious substance derived from the feces of sperm whales.
Yes… sperm whale poop. While nothing about the fecal matter of marine mammals sounds sophisticated or sweet-smelling, ambergris is one of the most valuable raw materials in perfumery. For many years, this curious material has been dubbed as the “treasure of the sea” or “floating gold”.
Where is ambergris found?
The origins of ambergris was a mystery for so many years. Before it was attributed to sperm whales, several theories were proposed. Some thought it was the droppings of large birds, while others believed it to be hardened sea foam.
It wasn’t until the 1800s when large-scale whaling began that its origins were uncovered. Ambergris did come from sperm whales, but its biological purpose in a whale’s body still isn’t fully understood. Ambergris is a blackish or dull grey waxy lump that consists mainly of undigested squid parts (sperm whales love munching on giant squid).
It is often found floating on the sea, washed up on coastlines, or inside the stomachs of dead sperm whales. Scientists theorize that ambergris helps the marine mammal pass sharp objects through its intestines.
Why is ambergris so expensive?
In 2016, three fishermen in Oman accidentally stumbled upon a chunk of ambergris that weight 176 pounds – it netted them nearly $3,000,000. How could whale poop be so expensive?
The material’s hefty price tag is attributed to how long it’s formed. Ambergris may float in the ocean for as long as 30 years before being washed up and found by perfume makers.
No other whales besides the sperm whales produce ambergris, making it somewhat of a collector’s item. It is a true rarity – found in less than 5% of sperm whale carcasses that make it to shore
What does ambergris smell like?
The longer ambergris floats, the better it smells. A white coating caused by oxidization forms on the surface from years of being buoyed by sea water. It is often described as having a sweet earthy aroma and a musky scent. Others describe the material to have a mossy fragrance that’s akin to that of a damp forest floor.
Our favorite ambergris fragrances
Due to accessibility and cost, synthetic chemicals have now replaced ambergris in all but the most expensive perfumes. Here are some of our favorite ambergris fragrances.
A woody floral musk fragrance for men created by superstar perfumer Alberto Morillas.
Top notes: Neroli and bergamot
Middle notes: Orange blossom, virginia cedar and cypriol oil or nagarmotha
Base notes: Woody Notes, ambergris, white Musk, wmber and leather.
A floral aquatic fragrance for women launched in 2016.
Top notes: Water notes, calabrian bergamot, orange, petitgrain, and grapefruit
Middle notes: Ginger flower, jasmine, orange blossom, peach, and rose
Base notes: Salt, vanilla, ambergris, cashmere wood, sandalwood and benzoin
An aromatic fougere fragrance for men launched in 2016.
Top notes: Sea Notes, ozonic notes, juniper Berries and mandarin orange
Middle notes: Lavender, green apple and violet leaf
Base notes: Seaweed, ambergris and patchouli.
A floral aquatic fragrance for women crafted by Dominique Ropion
Top notes: Sea notes
Middle notes: Lily, jasmine, orange blossom and damask rose
Base notes: Ambergris and cashmere wood
- Take Note: A Guide to Bergamot
- 5 Fragrance Notes for Better Productivity
- The Harmony of Fragrance Notes